It’s not exactly controversial these days to say that the Star Wars prequels were bad films. That’s definitely an opinion I hold, though I have much respect for our fellow contributors who are willing to dig deeper with any sort of Watsonian analysis. The thing is though, even when talking to other prequel detractors about them, there seems to be a sort of consensus that Revenge of the Sith is the best of the bunch. So much so that when I tell people my favorite is actually Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I’m met with blank stares.
The viewer ratings on Rotten Tomatoes seem to confirm this, not that an audience score of a 60% or 65% for Episodes I and III (respectively) are exactly ringing endorsements. With Phantom Menance there’s a prevailing attitude of “oh well, at least the podracing looked cool,” even if it’s the one critics took to task the most. I’m personally not willing to give it that much, since Jake Llyod’s portrayal of Anakin scarred my 10-year-old self.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never even remotely understood why Revenge of the Sith gets praised in the slightest. I suppose it’s because of the fact that it’s sandwiched by two visually stunning action sequences, and you can tell that the scope of what was trying to be achieved was ambitious? But at the same time this is the movie where Padmé is nothing but a womb whose only scenes outside of her relationship to Anakin were scrapped, where Palpatine’s Batman Gambit is dialed up to 11, and where the vast majority of the film is simply people walking and talking with a glazed look on their faces. Like…the scene where Anakin goes to Windu and tells him “omg I found the sith lord we’ve been looking for and it’s Palpatine” results in the two of them taking a glacial stroll down a hallway. Even the action sequences fall flat for me, because there’s no emotion behind any of it. My mind can appreciate how well the lava is rendered, but it’s not exactly an engaging experience to sit through.
No, it’s Attack of the Clones where my loyalties lie. It’s not that I find the action in this film any better, the characters to be relatable, or the plot to make even a modicum of sense—far from it, in fact. There’s just one, simple reason why I believe it to be the best prequel: it’s downright hilarious.
A senator that claims she can’t date? I can only shake my head and giggle and George Lucas’s 1950s-era conception of a working woman. Jar-Jar subbing in for an elected official, which includes him proposing the one bit of legislation that the person who appointed him opposed? My eyes fill with tears. Padmé declaring her deep and true love for the dude who canonically creeps her out, contradicts her in front of her boss and family, and commits genocide? It’s too much, it really is. I mean, the beating heart of the movie was supposed to be this romance. What was on our screen is what I’d imagine an alien from another planet would guess love looks like. The earnest John Williams score behind it somehow serves to only make it all the more amusing.
Don’t worry though, the B-plot still has plenty of laughs. I mean, there’s the truly awful assassination attempts on Padmé’s life that kick it off (the bounty hunter hires another bounty hunter, and the tactic is a bug-pooping droid?), and apparently she must be chairing some important senate subcommittee, because she seems to be the only senator people are trying to knock off. Then Obi-Wan gets assigned to a little Scooby-Doo mission where he stumbles onto a giant clone army made for the Republic in advance of any sort of military creation act, supposedly ordered by a member of the Jedi Council, and when he reports this back to Yoda and Mace, they just nod and keep sitting on their cushions. And of course the Clone Prime would have all the answers, rather than the actual damn cloners or something!
So Obi-Wan goes to follow Jango Fett (ugh), and a wild Christopher Lee appears! He proceeds to tell Obi-Wan that, and I quote, “the Republic is now under the control of the dark lord of the Sith”, and suggests them teaming up to take Sidious down. However, later when Yoda finds this out, he’s just like, “meh, Christopher Lee lies about shit.” Uh dude…there was just a freakin’ army created for the Republic without your okay, and there is literally only one dude that would have any kind of special influence. Oh, I forgot to mention the part where all the Jedi (seriously, all of them it seems like) bestir themselves to help Obi-Wan and Anakin, though from what I can tell they did jack all when they had fallen into that nest of gundarks.
What can anyone do but laugh? The honeypotting required for any of this to make sense is almost beyond reckoning. Did Palpatine want the assassination attempts on Padmé to be successful or not? Did Jango Fett, for that matter? What was Christopher Lee hoping to do here? Did he actually want to team up with Obi-Wan so he could be the master and not the apprentice? He clearly knows about Sidious’s real identity if he could tell the information about the senate, so why reveal it? And why the hell did the Jedi grab the clone army without bothering to ever investigate who placed the order?
The good news is that all this illogic just makes it so that by the time Yoda pulls out his lightsaber, you’ve already divorced yourself from the illusion that you’re watching anything Star Wars related. I mean, sure we can nitpick Empire Strikes Back, but Attack of the Clones has a plotline that just fundamentally shouldn’t be happening at all. A sexually repressed senator is being targeted because she opposes a bill that isn’t even on the senate floor yet, so she runs and hides to the unfathomable location of…her home, and is assigned a half-trained Jedi as her security? How did Lucas put this on paper? It really becomes a fascinating case-study in and of itself. It’s just so lazy. And sexist. And sterile.
There’s also something genuinely enjoyable about watching the actors try to get through this with a scrap of dignity in-tact. Natalie Portman really tries her hardest to convince the viewers that she’s in love with a murderous piece of cardboard, and there’s just this desperation in her voice that makes me want to reach out and comfort her (though luckily she goes onto bigger and better things). I mean, sure, NatPo in this movie may or may not have been responsible for my sexual awakening (once my Legolas crush had run its confused course), so maybe that’s half of why I’m still compelled by her scenes. But it’s not like she’s alone in the struggle I’ve described. Ewan McGregor is basically saying all of his lines to himself, since most of his scenes involve some horrible CGI monster to act against. Then poor Christopher Lee, being forced to sell the idea that he is as physically adept with a lightsaber as these two young, strapping dudes he’s facing.
Plus, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard “I wish that I could just wish away my feelings”—it doesn’t get less funny.
At a certain point, I’ve come to realize…I like watching this. It’s “ironic” enjoyment, because what I like most is picking apart its flaws. But, perhaps this is similar to political ideology, where the spectrum is, in many ways, a circle. I’m so far into ironic viewing that I’ve become just a true fan. It is a pleasurable experience to sit through this, a Star Wars prequel movie, for me. I find that past disquieting.
However, at the end of the day, I don’t think there can really be a wrong way to enjoy a piece of media. My favorite part of Frozen is its plot-holes, because I love filling in the details, for example. Is the only reason I feel okay calling myself an earnest fan of it to the world at large because it’s a better received movie than Episode II?
It sort of feels like we use “ironic enjoyment” to avoid negative public feedback, in the same way we use “guilty pleasure.” Hell, I remember using this argument back in Kindergarten when I pretended it was my reason for watching Barney. But really, I’d like to see that change. We may wish that we could wish away our feelings, but in the end we’ll only die a little bit each day by denying them. No more guilt. I love Attack of the Clones, and it is decidedly the best Star Wars prequel.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm